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New Warrior and Family Center in Good Hands With USO Metro

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

By Eric Brandner 

A jubilant Elaine Rogers held up a set of gold keys.

Then she asked her staff to make sure she didn’t lose them.

The USO of Metropolitan Washington has made its name on deeds, not symbols. But it was plain to see the pride Rogers took in holding up those keys in front of a tent full of troops, donors and media during the Feb. 5 grand opening of the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va. After years of planning, fundraising and building, USO Metro’s newest center was finally a reality.

“We are so humbled and so honored to be entrusted with the keys to this building,” said Rogers, USO Metro’s president. “This building [will be] a home, a place of hope and possibilities with quiet places for reflection and a pure entertainment zone for those who just want to kick back and have some fun.”

With years of assisting wounded, ill and injured troops, USO Metro is uniquely qualified to run both the Belvoir center and its sister Warrior and Family Center which will be built in Bethesda, Md.

Its operation served troops and staffers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington for decades before the campus relocated to Bethesda. USO Metro delivers more than 16,000 instances of support to wounded, ill and injured troops each year. Those include everything from bringing blankets and toiletries to their hospital rooms to career and life transition workshops to fun outings to get troops and caregivers away from the grind of the medical campus.

“They’ve been at this for a long time,” USO President Sloan D. Gibson said. “They know how to take care of these men and women. They will operate this center and I am certain that as time progresses that it will stand for … the USO at its very best.”

USO Metro is one of 19 USO charters in the United States. The difference between USO charters and what the USO refers to as direct-report centers is that charters are – for all intents and purposes – responsible for their own operation. It’s roughly the same concept as a restaurant franchise: chartered USOs must maintain USO standards of service to troops while also raising their own funds.

Once a charter is established, it can open multiple centers. USO Metro has 10 centers and one Mobile USO in its geographic area of responsibility, covering a 78-mile range from Baltimore-Washington International Airport in the north to Naval Support Facility Dahlgren, Va., in the south.

USO Metro employs 36 people across a range of specialties. But like all USO operations, the lifeblood of USO Metro’s organization is its volunteers. USO Metro has nearly 5,000 volunteers on its rolls and recruited 350 additional people to take weekly four-hour shifts at the center.

“Our volunteers always amaze me,” said Cheryl Laaker Hall, USO Metro’s chief operating officer. “Every single time we put out a call for help, we’re full. … Our volunteers do amazing things for us – things you can’t really pay somebody to do.”

* * *

Photo caption: USO of Metropolitan Washington President Elaine Rogers speaks on Feb. 5 during the grand opening of the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va. (USO photo by Mike Theiler) 

* Shop USO Wishbook to donate funds that helps more troops and families enjoy the programs and services that the USO offers worldwide. 

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